Nature Watch: Oakworm Moth

One morning I went out to water our garden, and I found this beauty on the green bean leaves. Curiously, I had also seen this moth on our porch one evening, but the colors were much more muted. I don’t know if this is a slightly different species or the sunlight was making it shine, but I couldn’t get over the colors in it. And it wasn’t until I viewed my photos later that I noticed the wings are translucent!

This is an oakworm moth, and I think it’s the pink-striped oakworm moth, but it’s very hard to tell it apart from the orange-tipped oakworm moth, so I’m not sure. (If you know, please tell me.)

My son became fascinated with moths a while back, and while it’s not what I’d call an active project (that is, he’s not researching information about them or creating any representations anymore), we still get quite excited when we find a moth we’ve never seen before in the yard. We have been lucky enough to find the Polyphemus Moth, Luna Moth, and the Tulip-tree Silkmoth, and I think we’ve seen the Imperial Moth too, but I don’t have a photo of one. We still haven’t seen a Cecropia Moth in the wild, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

As a little bonus, I want to share this photograph I took on one of my summer morning walks. It was a wet and foggy morning because it had stormed the previous day, and the dew made hundreds, maybe thousands, of spider webs visible in the trees. I marveled at how many there were, and luckily I had my phone with me, so I took a photo of this one, which hung on a branch by the road. Spider webs are amazing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed making some nature discoveries lately too, and I hope you’re staying cool throughout this brutal summer!


Nature Watch: Canada Geese

One other Nature Watch from our day at Smithgall Woods State Park.

They wouldn’t let us get too close, but you can imagine our delight when we happened upon these beautiful Canada Geese swimming in a boggy area at the park.

As you may know if you read my blog, my six-year-old loves birds, but he doesn’t always like to go hiking or even outdoors. (Sigh.) It’s at these rare sightings that I get to tell him, “See?! You never would have seen those Canada geese, if we hadn’t gone hiking and exploring!” 😉

What happy nature discovery have you made recently?

Nature Watch: Black Rat Snake

A month or so ago, we visited Smithgall Woods State Park, and while we were walking back to the parking lot, we came across this beautiful, medium-sized black rat snake. Black rat snakes are the most common snake in Georgia, so we’ve seen a few of them.

Snakes were my eldest son’s first love. When he was about four-years-old, he learned a lot about them by attending the knee-high naturalist program at the local nature center, and later I bought him a poster of Georgia snakes, which still hangs in his room. We started making a book about snakes too. Even though he’s decided he does not want to study snakes when he grows up anymore, he still loves snakes, and his younger brother thinks they are pretty cool too.

By studying snakes with my son, I learned quite a bit about them, and I know which ones are venomous and which ones are not. Black rat snakes are harmless, but, of course, any snake can bite, if you bother them, so you need to be respectful of them.

Snakes are very beneficial to the environment especially in that they help keep the rodent population in check, so you never want to harm one, if you find one. You might remember that many years ago, we watched a black rat snake eat a squirrel in our backyard, and I caught it on film! (So consider yourself warned, if you click on that link!)

My family has a deep appreciation for snakes, so finding this one was quite a treat!

Nature Watch: Cope’s Tree Frog

You’ll never guess where we found this beautiful little frog!

It was in our upstairs bathroom! We have no idea how it got there. This is actually the second time we’ve found a frog inside our house. Both times, we thought perhaps our dog had brought it in and dropped it, but now I’m wondering if somehow they came up through the toilets. That’s the only pipe large enough for them to fit through, and somewhere I heard that can happen. But who knows?

He appeared quite healthy and undamaged but also a little bewildered. We caught him, put him in a little bowl with some water to hydrate him and then released him immediately in our front yard.

I was able to identify this little guy as a Cope’s Tree Frog. The inner thigh is bright yellow or orange, and if you look closely at my photo, you can see a spot of yellow under his hind leg. This frog is small and still growing. Hopefully he found his way up to the top of a tree where they like to live.

Nature Watch: Carolina Chickadee fledges

I think this is what I love about homeschooling the most: my boys are very connected to the wildlife outside our windows because they are home all day, and we are always looking out our windows.

Not the best photography today. I took this photo and short videos with my phone through the window.

This morning I was sitting at the kitchen table when something fluttered by outside the window. “Boys!” I called. “I think the chickadees are fledging!”

My boys came, and we carefully stepped toward the window. Sure enough, a tiny little chickadee was on our back porch. Then my husband noticed another one in the yard. Later still, another fledged, and then another! (I caught the last one on video, which you can see below.) There were at least four (maybe five) chicks in that one small birdhouse!

We knew there were chickadees nesting in the birdhouse on our back deck, but we didn’t know if we’d be lucky enough to be present at just the right moment when the babies would decide to leave the nest. Last year, we had Carolina wrens nesting in this box, and we saw one of them fledge. However, we missed the bluebirds fledging on our front porch. They suddenly were gone one day!

So this was such a special morning! We spent a long time watching the chickadees (from a safe distance). The parents were still feeding them, and they couldn’t fly very well. They managed to flutter down to the ground, and they eventually got up into the trees. We could hear their calls for a long time, and we could see a couple of them up in the branches.

This is the last one who took a long time to get up enough courage to leave the nest!

I know they are still out in the trees tonight, and I hope they will be safe and warm. I am glad we were able to give them a safe place to start their journey.

Nature Watch: Southern Leopard Frog

Last May, we took a vacation to see Cloudland Canyon State Park, and while we were there, we hiked into the canyon to view two waterfalls. The first waterfall was Cherokee Falls, and it spilled into a beautiful, tranquil pool that was filled with boulders we could climb and sit on. We were delighted when we found, sitting on the rock, this beautiful Southern Leopard Frog. I was pretty impressed that my son was able to identify it right away too.

It jumped into the water when we got too close, but you can see the green stripe just below the eye.

Oh, and here’s Cherokee Falls too. It was a cool nature find too. 😉

Getting Out Into Nature

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 25, 2015.

When that non-stop rain we had finally ceased, we high-tailed it to the nearest park. That, of course, was Barrow County’s treasure: Ft. Yargo State Park. We had wanted to go there frequently during the fall, but that rain was keeping us at home, and we were all getting a bit stir crazy.

Due to our work and homeschool schedule, we don’t have a lot of time to get out into nature, but we’ve always made a point in exploring the various parks within driving distance whenever we can. It’s good for the boys, and it’s good for us. I can’t count the times my husband has thanked me after coaxing him away from his desk for a walk in the woods. It’s rejuvenating.

My father used to get his family into the outdoors frequently, and I guess I’m following his example. I have always enjoyed being outside, but I’m not sure I really noticed the plants and animals we share this earth with until I had children. No one can teach an adult how to discover the world better than a child.

There is rarely an insect, arachnid or small mammal that goes unnoticed when we’re walking in the woods with our children. The noise we make scares most wildlife away, but when we went to Ft. Yargo last week, we had a special encounter, especially for my bird-loving six-year-old.

My six-year-old often starts our leisurely hikes in protest. “Ugh!” He pouts. “All we do is walk!” If left to his own devices, my six-year-old would stay on our living room floor playing with his dinosaurs and animals and waging wars between them. Either that, or he would play Minecraft on his tablet most of the day. Unlike his older brother, who has always been my nature boy, the six-year-old needs convincing that hiking is a good thing.

Luckily, on that day, my nine-year-old spied a mallard duck, and soon after, we realized there were two more – two males and a small third duck that was either a female or juvenile. Suddenly my six-year-old was all into hiking. He loves birds, and ducks are his favorite. He has wanted to see a wild mallard, especially after watching documentaries about ducks and studying their photos in our bird app. He knew that they migrate to Georgia in the winter, but he had not encountered one before.

On our hike at Ft. Yargo, we had the pleasure of telling him that you have to get out into nature frequently, if you are going to see anything. And you have to go walking around and exploring. Otherwise, you definitely won’t see anything. I hope he got the message!

As long as we stayed in their territory along the lake, the mallard ducks followed us along the shore, and when we walked across the bridge, they followed us to the other side. We didn’t have any food to give them, but that didn’t deter them. They seemed just as interested in us as my boys were in them.

They are beautiful ducks, and it was a pleasure taking the time to watch them gracefully swim through the water and preen their feathers and cluck softly to one another. As they moved about, I could see the striking blue feathers that are hidden under their wings. The male’s green head glinted in the sunlight. I’m grateful that my children have taught me to look deeply at things that I would otherwise take for granted.

My six-year-old’s next mission is to try to see a male wood duck in the wild. If you’ve never seen a wood duck, you should look up a photo online. The males have beautiful plumage. That’s his favorite duck, and it too lives in Georgia (and it’s a favorite of duck hunters), but we’re not sure where we should go to try to see one. If anyone might know the answer to that, please send me an e-mail.